Song of Susannah 10th Stanza: Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine

One

"John Fitzgerald Kennedy died this afternoon at Parkland Memorial Hospital."

This voice, this grieving voice: Walter Cronkite's voice, in a dream.

"America's last gunslinger is dead. O Discordia!"

Two

As Mia left room 1919 of the New York Plaza - Park (soon to be the Regal U.N. Plaza, a Sombra/North Central project, O Discordia), Susannah fell into a swoon. From a swoon she passed into a savage dream filled with savage news.

Three

The next voice is that of Chet Huntley, co-anchor ofThe Huntley-Brinkley Report. It's also - in some way she cannot understand - the voice of Andrew, her chauffeur.

"Diem and Nhu are dead," says that voice. "Now do slip the dogs of war, the tale of woe begins; from here the way to Jericho Hill is paved with blood and sin. Ah, Discordia! Charyou tree! Come, reap!"

Where am I?

She looks around and sees a concrete wall packed with a jostling intaglio of names, slogans, and obscene drawings. In the middle, where anyone sitting on the bunk must see it, is this greeting: HELLO NIGGER WELCOME TO OXFORD DON ' T LET THE SUN SET ON YOU HERE!

The crotch of her slacks is damp. The underwear beneath is downright soaked, and she remembers why: although the bail bondsman was notified well in advance, the cops held onto them as long as possible, cheerfully ignoring the increasing chorus of pleas for a bathroom break. No toilets in the cells; no sinks; not even a tin bucket. You didn't need to be a quiz-kid onTwenty-one to figure it out; they weresupposed to piss in their pants, supposed to get in touch with their essential animal natures, and eventually she had,she, Odetta Holmes -

No,she thinks,I am Susannah. Susannah Dean. I've been taken prisoner again, jailed again, but I am still I.

She hears voices from beyond this wing of jail cells, voices which for her sum up the present. She's supposed to think they're coming from a TV out in the jail's office, she assumes, but it's got to be a trick. Or some ghoul's idea of a joke. Why else would Frank McGee be saying President Kennedy's brother, Bobby, is dead? Why would Dave Garroway from theToday show be saying that the President's littleboy is dead, that John-John has been killed in a plane crash? What sort of awful lie is that to hear as you sit in a stinking southern jail with your wet underpants clinging to your crotch? Why is "Buffalo" Bob Smith of theHowdy Doody show yelling "Cowabunga, kids, Martin Luther King is dead"? And the kids all screaming back, "Commala-come-Yay!We love the things ya say! Only good nigger's a dead nigger, so kill a coontoday! "

The bail bondsman will be here soon. That's what she needs to hold onto,that.

She goes to the bars and grips them. Yes, this is Oxford Town, all right, Oxford all over again, two men dead by the light of the moon, somebody better investigate soon. But she's going to get out, and she'll fly away, fly away, fly away home, and not long after that there will be an entirely new world to explore, with a new person to love and a new person tobe. Commala-come-come, the journey's just begun.

Oh, but that's a lie. The journey is almost over. Her heart knows this.

Down the hall a door opens and footsteps come clicking toward her. She looks in that direction - eagerly, hoping for the bondsman, or a deputy with a ring of keys - but instead it's a black woman in a pair of stolen shoes. It's her old self. It's Odetta Holmes. Didn't go to Morehouse, but did go to Columbia. And to all those coffee houses down in the Village. And to the Castle on the Abyss, that house, too.

"Listen to me," Odetta says. "No one can get you out of this but yourself, girl."

"You want to enjoy those legs while you got em, honey!" The voice she hears coming out of her mouth is rough and confrontational on top, scared underneath. The voice of Detta Walker. "You goan lose em fore long! They goan be cut off by the A train! That fabled A train! Man named Jack Mort goan push you off the platform in the Christopher Street station!"

Odetta looks at her calmly and says, "The A train doesn't stop there. It'snever stopped there."

"What the fuck youtalkin about, bitch?"

Odetta is not fooled by the angry voice or the profanity. She knows who she's talking to. And she knows what she's talking about. The column of truth has a hole in it. These are not the voices of the gramophone but those of our dead friends. There are ghosts in the rooms of ruin. "Go back to the Dogan, Susannah. And remember what I say: only you can save yourself. Only you can lift yourself out of Discordia."

Four

Now it's the voice of David Brinkley, saying that someone named Stephen King was struck and killed by a minivan while walking near his home in Lovell, a small town in western Maine. King was fifty-two, he says, the author of many novels, most notablyThe Stand, The Shining, and'Salem's Lot. Ah Discordia, Brinkley says, the world grows darker.

Five

Odetta Holmes, the woman Susannah once was, points through the bars of the cell and past her. She says it again: "Only you can save yourself. But the way of the gun is the way of damnation as well as salvation; in the end there is no difference."

Susannah turns to look where the finger is pointing, and is filled with horror at what she sees: The blood! Dear God, theblood! There is a bowl filled with blood, and in it some monstrous dead thing, a dead baby that's not human, and has she killed it herself?

"No!" she screams. "No, I will never!I will NEVER! "

"Then the gunslinger will die and the Dark Tower will fall," says the terrible woman standing in the corridor, the terrible woman who is wearing Trudy Damascus's shoes.

"Discordia indeed."

Susannah closes her eyes. Can shemake herself swoon? Can she swoon herself right out of this cell, this terrible world?

She does. She falls forward into the darkness and the soft beeping of machinery and the last voice she hears is that of Walter Cronkite, telling her that Diem and Nhu are dead, astronaut Alan Shepard is dead, Lyndon Johnson is dead, Richard Nixon is dead, Elvis Presley is dead, Rock Hudson is dead, Roland of Gilead is dead, Eddie of New York is dead, Jake of New York is dead, the world is dead, theworlds, the Tower is falling, a trillion universes are merging, and all is Discordia, all is ruin, all is ended.

Six

Susannah opened her eyes and looked around wildly, gasping for breath. She almost fell out of the chair in which she was sitting. It was one of those capable of rolling back and forth along the instrument panels filled with knobs and switches and blinking lights. Overhead were the black-and-white TV screens. She was back in the Dogan. Oxford

(Diem and Nhu are dead)

had only been a dream. A dream within a dream, if you pleased. This was another, but marginally better.

Most of the TV screens which had been showing pictures of Calla Bryn Sturgis the last time she'd been here were now broadcasting either snow or test-patterns. On one, however, was the nineteenth-floor corridor of the Plaza - Park Hotel. The camera rolled down it toward the elevators, and Susannah realized that these were Mia's eyes she was looking through.

My eyes,she thought. Her anger was thin, but she sensed it could be fed. Wouldhave to be fed, if she was ever to regard the unspeakable thing she'd seen in her dream. The thing in the corner of her Oxford jail cell. The thing in the bowl of blood.

They're my eyes. She hijacked them, that's all.

Another TV screen showed Mia arriving in the elevator lobby, examining the buttons, and then pushing the one marked with the DOWN arrow.We're off to see the midwife, Susannah thought, looking grimly up at the screen, and then barked a short, humorless laugh.Oh, we're off to see the midwife, the wonderful midwife of Oz. Because because because because be-CAUZZZ...Because of the wonderful things she does!

Here were the dials she'd reset at some considerable inconvenience - hell,pain. EMOTIONAL TEMP still at 72. The toggle-switch marked CHAP still turned to ASLEEP, and in the monitor above it the chap thus still in black-and-white like everything else: no sign of those disquieting blue eyes. The absurd LABOR FORCE oven-dial was still at 2, but she saw that most of the lights which had been amber the last time she'd been in this room had now turned red. There were more cracks in the floor and the ancient dead soldier in the corner had lost his head: the increasingly heavy vibration of the machinery had toppled the skull from the top of its spine, and it now laughed up at the fluorescent lights in the ceiling.

The needle on the SUSANNAH-MIO readout had reached the end of the yellow zone; as Susannah watched, it edged into the red. Danger, danger, Diem and Nhu are dead. Papa Doc Duvalier is dead. Jackie Kennedy is dead.

She tried the controls one after another, confirming what she already knew: they were locked in place. Mia might not have been able to change the settings in the first place, but locking things up once those settings were to her liking? That much she had been able to do.

There was a crackle and squall from the overhead speakers, loud enough to make her jump. Then, coming to her through heavy bursts of static, Eddie's voice.

"Suze!...ay!...Ear me? Burn...ay! Do it before...ever...posed...id! Do you hear me?"

On the screen she thought of as Mia-Vision, the doors of the central elevator car opened. The hijacking mommybitch got on. Susannah barely noticed. She snatched up the microphone and pushed the toggle-switch on the side. "Eddie!" she shouted. "I'm in 1999! The girls walk around with their bellies showing and their bra-straps - " Christ, what was she blathering on about? She made a mighty effort to sweep her mind clear.

"Eddie, I don't understand you! Say it again, sugar!"

For a moment there was nothing but more static, plus the occasional spooky wail of feedback. She was about to try the mike again when Eddie's voice returned, this time a little clearer.

"Burn up...day! Jake...Pere Cal...hold on! Burn...before she...to wherever she...have the kid! If you...knowledge!"

"I hear you, I acknowledge that much!" she cried. She was clutching the silver mike so tightly that it trembled in her grasp. "I'm in 1999! June of 1999! But I'm not understanding you as well as I need to, sug! Say again, and tell me if you're all right!"

But Eddie was gone.

After calling for him half a dozen times and getting nothing but that blur of static, she set the microphone down again and tried to figure out what he had been trying to tell her. Trying also to set aside her joy just in knowing that Eddie could still try to tell heranything.

"Burn up day," she said. That part, at least, had come through loud and clear. "Burn upthe day. As in kill some time." She thought that almost had to be right. Eddie wanted Susannah to slow Mia down. Maybe because Jake and Pere Callahan were coming? About that part she wasn't so sure, and she didn't much like it, anyway. Jake was a gunslinger, all right, but he was also only a kid. And Susannah had an idea that the Dixie Pig was full of very nasty people.



Meanwhile, on Mia-Vision, the elevator doors were opening again. The hijacking mommy-bitch had reached the lobby. For the time being Susannah put Eddie, Jake, and Pere Callahan out of her mind. She was recalling how Mia had refused tocome forward, even when their Susannah-Mio legs were threatening to disappear right out from under their shared Susannah-Mio body. Because she was, to misquote some old poem or other, alone and afraid in a world she never made.

Because she wasshy.

And my goodness, things in the lobby of the Plaza - Park had changed while the hijacking mommy-bitch had been upstairs waiting for her phone call. They had changed alot.

Susannah leaned forward with her elbows propped on the edge of the Dogan's main instrument panel and her chin propped on the palms of her hands.

This might be interesting.

Seven

Mia stepped out of the elevator, then attempted to step right back in. She thumped against the doors instead, and hard enough to make her teeth come together with a little ivory click. She looked around, bewildered, at first not sure how it was that the little descending room had disappeared.

Susannah! What happened to it?

No answer from the dark-skinned woman whose face she now wore, but Mia discovered she didn't actually need one. She could see the place where the door slid in and out. If she pushed the button the door would probably open again, but she had to conquer her sudden strong desire to go back up to Room 1919. Her business there was done. Herreal business was somewhere beyond the lobby doors.

She looked toward those doors with the sort of lip-biting dismay which may escalate into panic at a single rough word or angry look.

She'd been upstairs for a little over an hour, and during that time the lobby's early-afternoon lull had ended. Half a dozen taxis from La Guardia and Kennedy had pulled up in front of the hotel at roughly the same time; so had a Japanese tour-bus from Newark Airport. The tour had originated in Sapporo and consisted of fifty couples with reservations at the Plaza - Park. Now the lobby was rapidly filling with chattering people. Most had dark, slanted eyes and shiny black hair, and were wearing oblong objects around their necks on straps. Every now and then one would raise one of these objects and point it at someone else. There would be a brilliant flash, laughter, and cries ofDomo! Domo! There were three lines forming at the desk. The beautiful woman who'd checked Mia in during quieter times had been joined by two other clerks, all of them working like mad. The high-ceilinged lobby echoed with laughter and mingled conversation in some strange tongue that sounded to Mia like the twittering of birds. The banks of mirror-glass added to the general confusion by making the lobby seem twice as full as it actually was.

Mia cringed back, wondering what to do.

"Front!" yelled a desk clerk, and banged a bell. The sound seemed to shoot across Mia's confused thoughts like a silver arrow. "Front, please!"

A grinning man - black hair slicked against his skull, yellow skin, slanting eyes behind round spectacles - came rushing up to Mia, holding one of the oblong flash-things. Mia steeled herself to kill him if he attacked.

"Ah-yoo takea pickcha me and my wife?"

Offering her the flash-thing. Wanting her to take it from him. Mia cringed away, wondering if it ran on radiation, if the flashes might hurt her baby.

Susannah! What do I do?

No answer. Of course not, she really couldn't expect Susannah's help after what had just happened, but...

The grinning man was still thrusting the flash-machine at her. He looked a trifle puzzled, but mostly undaunted. "Yooo take-ah pickcha, preese?" And put the oblong thing in her hand. He stepped back and put his arm around a lady who looked exactly like him except for her shiny black hair, which was cut across her forehead in what Mia thought of as a wench-clip. Even the round glasses were the same.

"No," Mia said. "No, cry pardon...no." The panic was very close now and very bright, whirling and gibbering right in front of her

(yooo take-ah pickcha, we kill-ah baby)

and Mia's impulse was to drop the oblong flasher on the floor. That might break it, however, and release the deviltry that powered the flashes.

She put it down carefully instead, smiling apologetically at the astonished Japanese couple (the man still had his arm around his wife), and hurried across the lobby in the direction of the little shop. Even the piano music had changed; instead of the former soothing melodies, it was pounding out something jagged and dissonant, a kind of musical headache.

I need a shirt because there's blood on this one. I'll get the shirt and then I'll go to the Dixie Pig, Sixty-first and Lexingworth...Lexington,I mean, Lexing ton...and then I'll have my baby. I'll have my baby and all this confusion will end. I'll think of how I was afraid and I'll laugh.

But the shop was also full. Japanese women examined souvenirs and twittered to each other in their bird-language while they waited for their husbands to get them checked in. Mia could see a counter stacked with shirts, but there were women all around it, examining them. And there was another line at the counter.

Susannah, what should I do? You've got to help me!

No answer. She was in there, Mia could feel her, but she would not help.And really, she thought,would I, if I were in her position?

Well, perhaps she would. Someone would have to offer her the right inducement, of course, but -

The only inducement I want from you is the truth,Susannah said coldly.

Someone brushed against Mia as she stood in the door to the shop and she turned, her hands coming up. If it was an enemy, or some enemy of her chap, she would claw his eyes out.

"Solly," said a smiling black-haired woman. Like the man, she was holding out one of the oblong flash-things. In the middle was a circular glass eye that stared at Mia. She could see her own face in it, small and dark and bewildered.

"You take pickcha, preese? Take pickcha me and my fliend?"

Mia had no idea what the woman was saying or what she wanted or what the flash-makers were supposed to do. She only knew that there were too many people, they were everywhere, this was a madhouse. Through the shop window she could see that the front of the hotel was likewise thronged. There were yellow cars and long black cars with windows you couldn't look into (although the people inside could doubtless look out), and a huge silver conveyance that sat rumbling at the curb. Two men in green uniforms were in the street, blowing silver whistles. Somewhere close by something began to rattle loudly. To Mia, who had never heard a jackhammer, it sounded like a speed-shooter gun, but no one outside was throwing himself to the sidewalk; no one even looked alarmed.

How was she supposed to get to the Dixie Pig on her own? Richard P. Sayre had said he was sure Susannah could help her find it, but Susannah had fallen stubbornly silent, and Mia herself was on the verge of losing control entirely.

Then Susannah spoke up again.

If I help you a little now - get you to a quiet place where you can catch your breath and at least do something about your shirt - will you give me some straight answers?

About what?

About the baby, Mia. And about the mother. About you.

I did!

I don't think so. I don't think you're any more elemental than...well, than I am. I want the truth.

Why?

I want the truth,Susannah repeated, and then fell silent, refusing to respond to any more of Mia's questions. And when yet another grinning little man approached her with yet another flash-thing, Mia's nerve broke. Right now just getting across the hotel lobby looked like more than she could manage on her own; how was she supposed to get all the way to this Dixie Pig place? After so many years in

(Fedic)

(Discordia)

(the Castle on the Abyss)

to be among so many people made her feel like screaming. And after all, why not tell the dark-skinned woman what little she knew? She - Mia, daughter of none, mother of one - was firmly in charge. What harm in a little truth-telling?

All right,she said.I'll do as you ask, Susannah or Odetta or whoever you are. Just help me. Get me out of here.

Susannah Deancame forward.

Eight

There was a women's restroom adjacent to the hotel bar, around the corner from the piano player. Two of the yellow-skinned, black-haired ladies with the tipped eyes were at the basins, one washing her hands, the other fixing her hair, both of them twittering in their birdy-lingo. Neither paid any attention to thekokujin lady who went past them and to the stalls. A moment later they left her in blessed silence except for the faint music drifting down from the overhead speakers.

Mia saw how the latch worked and engaged it. She was about to sit down on the toilet seat when Susannah said:Turn it inside out.

What?

The shirt, woman. Turn it inside out, for your father's sake!

For a moment Mia didn't. She was too stunned.

The shirt was a rough-woven callum-ka, the sort of simple pullover favored by both sexes in the rice-growing country during cooler weather. It had what Odetta Holmes would have called a boatneck. No buttons, so yes, it could very easily be turned inside out, but -

Susannah, clearly impatient:Are you going to stand there commala-moon all day? Turn it inside out! And tuck it into your jeans this time.

W...Why?

It'll give you a different look,Susannah replied promptly, but that wasn't the reason. What she wanted was a look at herself below the waist. If her legs were Mia's then they were quite probably white legs. She was fascinated (and a little sickened) by the idea that she had become a kind of tu-tone halfbreed.

Mia paused a moment longer, fingertips rubbing the rough weave of the shirt above the worst of the bloodstains, which was over her left breast. Over her heart. Turn it inside out! In the lobby, a dozen half-baked ideas had gone through her head (using the scrimshaw turtle to fascinate the people in the shop had probably been the only one even close to workable), but simply turning the damned thing inside out hadn't been one of them. Which only showed, she supposed, how close to total panic she had been. But now...

Did she need Susannah for the brief time she would be in this overcrowded and disorienting city, which was so different from the quiet rooms of the castle and the quiet streets of Fedic? Just to get from here to Sixty-first Street and Lexingworth?

Lexington, said the woman trapped inside her.Lexing ton.You keep forgetting that, don't you?

Yes. Yes, she did. And there was no reason to forget such a simple thing, maybe she hadn't been to Morehouse, Morehouse or no house, but she wasn't stupid. So why -

What?she demanded suddenly.What are you smiling about?

Nothing,said the woman inside...but she was still smiling. Almost grinning. Mia could feel it, and she didn't like it. Upstairs in Room 1919, Susannah had been screaming at her in a mixture of terror and fury, accusing Mia of betraying the man she loved and the one she followed. Which had been true enough to make Mia ashamed. She didn't enjoy feeling that way, but she'd liked the woman inside better when she was howling and crying and totally discombobulated. The smile made her nervous. This version of the brown-skinned woman was trying to turn the tables on her; maybe thought shehad turned the tables. Which was impossible, of course, she was under the protection of the King, but...

Tell me why you're smiling!

Oh, it don't amount to much,Susannah said, only now she sounded like the other one, whose name was Detta. Mia did more than dislike that one. She was a little afraid of that one.It's just that there was this fella named Sigmund Freud, honeychile - honky muhfuh, but not stupid. And he said that when someone always be f'gittin sump'in, might be because that person wantto be f'gittin it.

That's stupid,Mia said coldly. Beyond the stall where she was having this mental conversation, the door opened and two more ladies came in - no, at least three and maybe four - twittering in their birdy-language and giggling in a way that made Mia clamp her teeth together.Why would I want to forget the place where they're waiting to help me have my baby?

Well, dis Freud - dis smart cigar-smoking Viennese honky muhfuh - he claim dat we got dis mindunderour mind, he call it the unconscious or subconscious or somefuckin conscious. Now I ain't claimin dere is such a thing, only dat he saydere was.

(Burn up the day,Eddie had told her, that much she was sure of, and she would do her best, only hoping that she wasn't working on getting Jake and Callahan killed by doing it. )

Ole Honky Freud,Detta went on,he say in lots of ways de subconscious or unconscious mind smarterdan de one on top. Cut through de bullshit fasterdan de one on top. An maybe yours understand what I been tellin you all along, that yo' frien Sayre nothin but a lyin rat-ass muhfuh goan steal yo baby and, I dunno, maybe cut it up in dis bowl and den feed it to the vampires like dey was dawgs an dat baby nuffin but a big-ass bowl o' Alpo or Purina Vampire Ch  -

Shut up! Shut up your lying face!

Out at the basins, the birdy-women laughed so shrilly that Mia felt her eyeballs shiver and threaten to liquefy in their sockets. She wanted to rush out and seize their heads and drive them into the mirrors, wanted to do it again and again until their blood was splashed all the way up to the ceiling and theirbrains  -

Temper, temper,said the woman inside, and now it sounded like Susannah again.

She lies! That bitch LIES!

No,Susannah replied, and the conviction in that single short word was enough to send an arrow of fear into Mia's heart.She says what's on her mind, no argument there, but she doesn't lie. Go on, Mia, turn your shirt inside out.

With a final eye-watering burst of laughter, the birdy-women left the bathroom. Mia pulled the shirt off over her head, baring Susannah's breasts, which were the color of coffee with just the smallest splash of milk added in. Her nipples, which had always been as small as berries, were now much larger. Nipples craving a mouth.

There were only the faintest maroon spots on the inside of the shirt. Mia put it back on, then unbuttoned the front of her jeans so she could tuck it in. Susannah stared, fascinated, at the point just above her pubic thatch. Here her skin lightened to a color that might have been milk with the smallest splash of coffee added in. Below were the white legs of the woman she'd met on the castle allure. Susannah knew that if Mia lowered her jeans all the way, she'd see the scabbed and scratched shins she had already observed as Mia - thereal Mia - looked out over Discordia toward the red glow marking the castle of the King.

Something about this frightened Susannah terribly, and after a moment's consideration (it took no longer), the reason came to her. If Mia had only replaced those parts of her legs that Odetta Holmes had lost to the subway train when Jack Mort pushed her onto the tracks she would have been white only from the knees or so down. But herthighs were white, too, and her groin area was turning. What strange lycanthropy was this?

De body-stealin kind,Detta replied cheerfully.Pretty soon you be havin a white belly...white breas's...white neck...white cheeks...

Stop it,Susannah warned, but when had Detta Walker ever listened to her warnings? Hers or anybody's?

And den, las' of all, you have a whitebrain,girl! A Mia brain! And won't dat be fahn? Sho! You be all Mia den! Nobody give you no shit if you want to ride right up front on de bus!

Then the shirt was drawn over her hips; the jeans were again buttoned up. Mia sat down on the toilet ring that way. In front of her, scrawled on the door, was this graffito: BANGO SKANK AWAITS THE KING!

Who is this Bango Skank?Mia asked.

I have no idea.

I think...It was hard, but Mia forced herself.I think I owe you a word of thanks.

Susannah's response was cold and immediate.Thank me with the truth.

First tell me why you'd help me at all, after I...

This time Mia couldn't finish. She liked to think of herself as brave - as brave as she had to be in the service of her chap, at least - but this time she couldn't finish.

After you betrayed the man I love to men who are, when you get right down to it, footsoldiers of the Crimson King? After you decided it would be all right for them to kill mine so long as you could keep yours? Is that what you want to know?

Mia hated to hear it spoken of that way, but bore it.Had to bear it.

Yes, lady, if you like.

It was the other one who replied this time, in that voice - harsh, cawing, laughing, triumphant, and hateful - that was even worse than the shrill laughter of the birdy-women. Worse by far.

Because mah boys got away, dass why! Fucked those honkies mos' righteous! The ones dey didn't shoot all blowed to smithereens!

Mia felt a deep stirring of unease. Whether it was true or not, the bad laughing woman clearlybelieved it was true. And if Roland and Eddie Dean were still out there, wasn't it possible the Crimson King wasn't as strong, as all-powerful, as she had been told? Wasn't it even possible that shehad been misled about -

Stop it, stop it, you can't think that way!

There's another reason I helped.The harsh one was gone and the other was back. At least for now.

What?

It's my baby, too,Susannah said.I don't want it killed.

I don't believe you.

But she did. Because the woman inside was right: Mordred Deschain of Gilead and Discordia belonged to both of them. The bad one might not care, but the other, Susannah, clearly felt the chap's tidal pull. And if she was right about Sayre and whoever waited for her at the Dixie Pig...if they were liars and cozeners...

Stop it. Stop. I have nowhere else to go but to them.

You do,Susannah said quickly.With Black Thirteen you can go anywhere.

You don't understand. He'd follow me. Followit.

You're right, Idon'tunderstand. She actually did, orthought she did, but...Burn up the day,he'd said.

All right, I'll try to explain. I don't understand everything myself - there are things I don't know - but I'll tell you what I can.

Thank y -

Before she could finish, Susannah was falling again, like Alice down the rabbit-hole. Through the toilet, through the floor, through the pipes beneath the floor, and into another world.

Nine

No castle at the end of her drop, not this time. Roland had told them a few stories of his wandering years - the vampire nurses and little doctors of Eluria, the walking waters of East Downe, and, of course, the story of his doomed first love - and this was a little like falling into one of those tales. Or, perhaps, into one of the oat-operas ("adult Westerns," as they were called) on the still relatively new ABC-TV network:Sugarfoot, with Ty Hardin,Maverick, with James Garner, or - Odetta Holmes's personal favorite - Cheyenne,starring Clint Walker. (Odetta had once written a letter to ABC programming, suggesting they could simultaneously break new ground and open up a whole new audience if they did a series about a wandering Negro cowboy in the years after the Civil War. She never got an answer. She supposed writing the letter in the first place had been ridiculous, a waste of time.)

There was a livery stable with a sign out front reading TACK MENDED CHEAP . The sign over the hotel promised QUIET ROOMS, GUD BEDS . There were at least five saloons. Outside one of them, a rusty robot that ran on squalling treads turned its bulb head back and forth, blaring a come-on to the empty town from the horn-shaped speaker in the center of its rudimentary face: "Girls, girls,girls! Some are humie and some are cybie, but who cares, you can't tell the difference, they do what you want without complaint, won't is not in their vo-CAB-u-lary, they give satisfaction with every action! Girls, girls, girls! Some are cybie, some are real, you can't tell the difference when you cop a feel! They do what you want! They want whatyou want!"

Walking beside Susannah was the beautiful young white woman with the swollen belly, scratched legs, and shoulder-length black hair. Now, as they walked below the gaudy false front of THE FEDIC GOOD-TIME SALOON, BAR, AND DANCE EMPORIUM , she was wearing a faded plaid dress which advertised her advanced state of pregnancy in a way that made it seem freakish, almost a sign of the apocalypse. Thehuaraches of the castle allure had been replaced by scuffed and battered shor'boots. Both of them were wearing shor'boots, and the heels clumped hollowly on the boardwalk.

From one of the deserted barrooms farther along came the herky-jerky jazz of a jagtime tune, and a snatch of some old poem came to Susannah:A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute Saloon!

She looked over the batwing doors and was not in the least surprised to see the words SERVICE'S MALAMUTE SALOON .

She slowed long enough to peer over the batwing doors and saw a chrome piano playing itself, dusty keys popping up and down, just a mechanical music-box no doubt built by the ever-popular North Central Positronics, entertaining a room that was empty except for a dead robot and, in the far corner, two skeletons working through the process of final decomposition, the one that would take them from bone to dust.

Farther along, at the end of the town's single street, loomed the castle wall. It was so high and so wide it blotted out most of the sky.

Susannah abruptly knocked her fist against the side of her head. Then she held her hands out in front of her and snapped her fingers.

"What are you doing?" Mia asked. "Tell me, I beg."

"Making sure I'm here. Physically here."

"You are."

"So it seems. But how can that be?"

Mia shook her head, indicating that she didn't know. On this, at least, Susannah was inclined to believe her. There was no dissenting word from Detta, either.

"This isn't what I expected," Susannah said, looking around. "It's not what I expected at all."

"Nay?" asked her companion (and without much interest). Mia was moving in that awkward but strangely endearing duck-footed waddle that seems to best suit women in the last stages of their carry. "And what was it ye did expect, Susannah?"

"Something more medieval, I guess. More like that." She pointed at the castle.

Mia shrugged as if to say take it or leave it, and then said, "Is the other one with you? The nasty one?"

Detta, she meant. Of course. "She's always with me. She's a part of me just as your chap is a part of you." Although how Mia could be pregnant when it had been Susannah who caught the fuck was something Susannah was still dying to know.

"I'll soon be delivered of mine," Mia said. "Will ya never be delivered of yours?"

"I thought I was," Susannah said truthfully. "She came back. Mostly, I think, to deal with you."

"I hate her."

"I know." And Susannah knew more. Mia feared Detta, as well. Feared her big-big.

"If she speaks, our palaver ends."

Susannah shrugged. "She comes when she comes and speaks when she speaks. She doesn't ask my permission."

Ahead of them on this side of the street was an arch with a sign above it:

FEDIC STATION

MONO PATRICIA DISCONTINUED

THUMBPRINT READER INOPERATIVE

SHOW TICKET

NORTH CENTRAL POSITRONICS THANKS YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE

The sign didn't interest Susannah as much as the two things that lay on the filthy station platform beyond it: a child's doll, decayed to little more than a head and one floppy arm, and, beyond it, a grinning mask. Although the mask appeared to be made of steel, a good deal of it seemed to have rotted like flesh. The teeth poking out of the grin were canine fangs. The eyes were glass. Lenses, Susannah felt sure, no doubt also crafted by North Central Positronics. Surrounding the mask were a few shreds and tatters of green cloth, what had undoubtedly once been this thing's hood. Susannah had no trouble putting together the remains of the doll and the remains of the Wolf; her mamma, as Detta sometimes liked to tell folks (especially horny boys in road-house parking lots), didn't raise no fools.

"This is where they brought them," she said. "Where the Wolves brought the twins they stole from Calla Bryn Sturgis. Where they - what? - operated on them."

"Not just from Calla Bryn Sturgis," Mia said indifferently, "but aye. And once the babbies were here, they were taken there. A place you'll also recognize, I've no doubt."

She pointed across Fedic's single street and farther up. The last building before the castle wall abruptly ended the town was a long Quonset hut with sides of filthy corrugated metal and a rusty curved roof. The windows running along the side Susannah could see had been boarded up. Also along that side was a steel hitching rail. To it were tied what looked like seventy horses, all of them gray. Some had fallen over and lay with their legs sticking straight out. One or two had turned their heads toward the women's voices and then seemed to freeze in that position. It was very un-horselike behavior, but of course these weren't real horses. They were robots, or cyborgs, or whichever one of Roland's terms you might like to use. Many of them seemed to have run down or worn out.

In front of this building was a sign on a rusting steel plate. It read:

NORTH CENTRAL POSITRONICS, LTD.

Fedic Headquarters

Arc 16 Experimental Station

Maximum Security

VERBAL ENTRY CODE REQUIRED

EYEPRINT REQUIRED

"It's another Dogan, isn't it?" Susannah asked.

"Well, yes and no," Mia said. "It's the Dogan of all Dogans, actually."

"Where the Wolves brought the children."

"Aye, and will bring them again," Mia said. "For the King's work will go forward after this disturbance raised by your friend the gunslinger is past. I have no doubt of it."

Susannah looked at her with real curiosity. "How can you speak so cruel and yet be so serene?" she asked. "They bring children here and scoop out their heads like...like gourds. Children, who've harmed nobody! What they send back are great galumphing idiots who grow to their full size in agony and often die in much the same way. Would you be so sanguine, Mia, ifyour child was borne away across one of those saddles, shrieking for you and holding out his arms?"

Mia flushed, but was able to meet Susannah's gaze. "Each must follow the road upon which ka has set her feet, Susannah of New York. Mine is to bear my chap, and raise him, and thus end your dinn's quest. And his life."

"It's wonderful how everyone seems to think they know just what ka means for them," Susannah said. "Don't you think that's wonderful?"

"I think you're trying to make jest of me because you fear," Mia said levelly. "If such makes you feel better, than aye, have on." She spread her arms and made a little sarcastic bow over her great belly.

They had stopped on the boardwalk in front of a shop advertising MILLINERY & LADIES' WEAR and across from the Fedic Dogan. Susannah thought:Burn up the day, don't forget that's the other part of your job here. Kill time. Keep the oddity of a body we now seem to share in that women's restroom just as long as you possibly can.

"I'm not making fun," Susannah said. "I'm only asking you to put yourself in the place of all those other mothers."

Mia shook her head angrily, her inky hair flying around her ears and brushing at her shoulders. "I did not make their fate, lady, nor did they make mine. I'll save my tears, thank you. Would you hear my tale or not?"

"Yes, please."

"Then let us sit, for my legs are sorely tired."

Ten

In the Gin-Puppie Saloon, a few rickety storefronts back in the direction from which they'd come, they found chairs which would still bear their weight, but neither woman had any taste for the saloon itself, which smelled of dusty death. They dragged the chairs out to the boardwalk, where Mia sat with an audible sigh of relief.

"Soon," she said. "Soon you shall be delivered, Susannah of New York, and so shall I."

"Maybe, but I don't understand any of this. Least of all why you're rushing to this guy Sayre when you must know he serves the Crimson King."

"Hush!" Mia said. She sat with her legs apart and her huge belly rising before her, looking out across the empty street. "'Twas a man of the King who gave me a chance to fulfill the only destiny ka ever left me. Not Sayre but one much greater than he. Someone to whom Sayre answers. A man named Walter."

Susannah started at the name of Roland's ancient nemesis. Mia looked at her, gave her a grim smile.

"You know the name, I see. Well, maybe that'll save some talk. Gods know there's been far too much talk for my taste, already; it's not what I was made for. I was made to bear my chap and raise him, no more than that. And no less."

Susannah offered no reply. Killing was supposedly her trade, killing time her current chore, but in truth she had begun to find Mia's single-mindedness a trifle tiresome. Not to mention frightening.

As if picking this thought up, Mia said: "I am what I am and I am content wi' it. If others are not, what's that to me? Spit on em!"

Spoken like Detta Walker at her feistiest,Susannah thought, but made no reply. It seemed safer to remain quiet.

After a pause, Mia went on. "Yet I'd be lying if I didn't say that being here brings back...certain memories. Yar!" And, unexpectedly, she laughed. Just as unexpectedly, the sound was beautiful and melodic.

"Tell your tale," Susannah said. "This time tell me all of it. We have time before the labor starts again."

"Do you say so?"

"I do. Tell me."

For a few moments Mia just looked out at the street with its dusty cover of oggan and its air of sad and ancient abandonment. As Susannah waited for story-time to commence, she for the first time became aware of the still, shadeless quality to Fedic. She could see everything very well, and there was no moon in the sky as on the castle allure, but she still hesitated to call this daytime.

It'snotime, a voice inside her whispered - she knew not whose.This is a place between, Susannah; a place where shadows are cancelled and time holds its breath.

Then Mia told her tale. It was shorter than Susannah had expected (shorter than she wanted, given Eddie's abjuration to burn up the day), but it explained a great deal. More, actually, than Susannah had hoped for. She listened with growing rage, and why not? She had been more than raped that day in the ring of stones and bones, it seemed. She had been robbed, as well - the strangest robbery to which any woman had ever been subject.

And it was still going on.

Eleven

"Look out there, may it do ya fine," said the big-bellied woman sitting beside Susannah on the boardwalk. "Look out and see Mia before she gained her name."

Susannah looked into the street. At first she saw nothing but a cast-off waggon-wheel, a splintered (and long-dry) watering trough, and a starry silver thing that looked like the lost rowel from some cowpoke's spur.

Then, slowly, a misty figure formed. It was that of a nude woman. Her beauty was blinding - even before she had come fully into view, Susannah knew that. Her age was any. Her black hair brushed her shoulders. Her belly was flat, her navel a cunning cup into which any man who ever loved women would be happy to dip his tongue. Susannah (or perhaps it was Detta) thought,Hell, I could dip my own. Hidden between the ghost-woman's thighs was a cunning cleft. Here was a different tidal pull.

"That's me when I came here," said the pregnant version sitting beside Susannah. She spoke almost like a woman who is showing slides of her vacation.That's me at the Grand Canyon, that's me in Seattle, that's me at Grand Coulee Dam; that's me on the Fedic high street, do it please ya. The pregnant woman was also beautiful, but not in the same eerie way as the shade in the street. The pregnant woman looked a certain age, for instance - late twenties - and her face had been marked by experience. Much of it painful.

"I said I was an elemental - the one who made love to your dinh - but that was a lie. As I think you suspected. I lied not out of hope of gain, but only...I don't know...from a kind of wishfulness, I suppose. I wanted the baby to be mine that way, too - "

"Yours from the start."

"Aye, from the start - you say true." They watched the nude woman walk up the street, arms swinging, muscles of her long back flexing, hips swaying from side to side in that eternal breathless clock of motion. She left no tracks on the oggan.

"I told you that the creatures of the invisible world were left behind when thePrim receded. Most died, as fishes and sea-animals will when cast up on a beach and left to strangle in the alien air. But there are always some who adapt, and I was one of those unfortunates. I wandered far and wide, and whenever I found men in the wastes, I took on the form you see."

Like a model on a runway (one who has forgotten to actually put on the latest Paris fashion she's supposed to be displaying), the woman in the street pivoted on the balls of her feet, buttocks tensing with lovely silken ease, creating momentary crescent-shaped hollows. She began to walk back, the eyes just below the straight cut of her bangs fixed on some distant horizon, her hair swinging beside ears that were without other ornament.

"When I found someone with a prick, I fucked him," Mia said. "That much I had in common with the demon elemental who first tried to have congress with your soh and then did have congress with your dinh, and that also accounts for my lie, I suppose. And I found your dinh passing fair." The tiniest bit of greed roughened her voice as she said this. The Detta in Susannah found it sexy. The Detta in Susannah bared her lips in a grin of gruesome understanding.

"I fucked them, and if they couldn't break free I fucked them to death." Matter-of-fact.After the Grand Coulee, we went to Yosemite. Would you tell your dinh something for me, Susannah? If you see him again?"

"Aye, if you like."

"Once he knew a man - a bad man - named Amos Depape, brother of the Roy Depape who ran with Eldred Jonas in Mejis. Your dinh believes Amos Depape was stung to death by a snake, and in a way he was...but the snake was me."

Susannah said nothing.

"I didn't fuck them for sex, I didn't fuck them to kill them, although I didn't care when they died and their pricks finally wilted out of me like melting icicles. In truth I didn't knowwhy I was fucking them, until I came here, to Fedic. In those early days there were still men and women here; the Red Death hadn't come, do ye ken. The crack in the earth beyond town was there, but the bridge over it still stood strong and true. Those folk were stubborn, trying not to let go, even when the rumors that Castle Discordia was haunted began. The trains still came, although on no regular schedule - "

"The children?" Susannah asked. "The twins?" She paused. "The Wolves?"

"Nay, all of that was two dozen centuries later. Or more. But hear me now: there was one couple in Fedic who had ababy. You've no idea, Susannah of New York, how rare and wonderful that was in those days when most folk were as sterile as the elementals themselves, and those who weren't more often than not produced either slow mutants or monsters so terrible they were killed by their parents if they took more than a single breath. Most of them didn't. Butthis baby!"

She clasped her hands. Her eyes shone.

"It was round and pink and unblemished by so much as a portwine stain - perfect - and I knew after a single look what I'd been made for. I wasn't fucking for the sex of it, or because in coitus I was almost mortal, or because it brought death to most of my partners, but to have a baby like theirs. Like their Michael."

She lowered her head slightly and said, "I would have taken him, you know. Would have gone to the man, fucked him until he was crazy, then whispered in his ear that he should kill his molly. And when she'd gone to the clearing at the end of the path, I would have fucked him dead and the baby - that beautiful little pink baby - would have been mine. D'you see?"

"Yes," Susannah said. She felt faintly sick. In front of them, in the middle of the street, the ghostly woman made yet another turn and started back again. Farther down, the huckster-robot honked out his seemingly eternal spiel:Girls, girls, girls! Some are humie and some are cybie, but who cares, you can't tell the difference!

"I discovered I couldn't go near them," Mia said. "It was as though a magic circle had been drawn around them. It was the baby, I suppose.

"Then came the plague. The Red Death. Some folks said something had been opened in the castle, some jar of demonstuff that should have been left shut forever. Others said the plague came out of the crack - what they called the Devil's Arse. Either way, it was the end of life in Fedic, life on the edge of Discordia. Many left on foot or in waggons. Baby Michael and his parents stayed, hoping for a train. Each day I waited for them to sicken - for the red spots to show on the baby's dear cheeks and fat little arms - but they never did; none of the three sickened. Perhaps theywere in a magic circle. I think they must have been. And a train came. It was Patricia. The mono. Do ya ken - "

"Yes," Susannah said. She knew all she wanted to about Blaine's companion mono. Once upon a time her route must have taken her over here as well as to Lud.

"Aye. They got on. I watched from the station platform, weeping my unseen tears and wailing my unseen cries. They got on with their sweet wee one...only by then he was three or four years old, walking and talking. And they went. I tried to follow them, and Susannah, I could not. I was a prisoner here. Knowing my purpose was what made me so."

Susannah wondered about that, but decided not to comment.

"Years and decades and centuries went by. In Fedic there were by then only the robots and the unburied bodies left over from the Red Death, turning to skeletons, then to dust.

"Then men came again, but I didn't dare go near them because they werehis men." She paused. "Itsmen."

"The Crimson King's."

"Aye, they with the endlessly bleeding holes on their foreheads. They went there." She pointed to the Fedic Dogan - the Arc 16 Experimental Station. "And soon their accursed machines were running again, just as if they still believed that machines could hold up the world. Not, ye ken, that holding it up is what they want to do! No, no, not they! They brought in beds - "

"Beds!" Susannah said, startled. Beyond them, the ghostly woman in the street rose once more on the balls of her feet and made yet one more graceful pirouette.

"Aye, for the children, although this was still long years before the Wolves began to bring em here, and long before you were part of your dinh's story. Yet that time did draw nigh, and Walter came to me."

"Can you make that woman in the street disappear?" Susannah asked abruptly (and rather crossly). "I know she's a version of you, I get the idea, but she makes me...I don't know...nervous. Can you make her go away?"

"Aye, if you like." Mia pursed her lips and blew. The disturbingly beautiful woman - the spirit without a name - disappeared like smoke.

For several moments Mia was quiet, once more gathering the threads of her story. Then she said, "Walter...saw me. Not like other men. Even the ones I fucked to death only saw what they wanted to see. Or whatI wanted them to see." She smiled in unpleasant reminiscence. "I made some of them die thinking they were fucking their own mothers! You should have seen their faces!" Then the smile faded. "But Waltersaw me."

"What did he look like?"

"Hard to tell, Susannah. He wore a hood, and inside it he grinned - such a grinning man he was - and he palavered with me. There." She pointed toward the Fedic Good-Time Saloon with a finger that trembled slightly.

"No mark on his forehead, though?"

"Nay, I'm sure not, for he's not one of what Pere Callahan calls the low men. Their job is the Breakers. The Breakers and no more."

Susannah began to feel the anger then, although she tried not to show it. Mia had access to all her memories, which meant all the inmost workings and secrets of their ka-tet. It was like discovering you'd had a burglar in the house who had tried on your underwear as well as stealing your money and going through your most personal papers.

It was awful.

"Walter is, I suppose, what you'd call the Crimson King's Prime Minister. He often travels in disguise, and is known in other worlds under other names, but always he is a grinning, laughing man - "

"I met him briefly," Susannah said, "under the name of Flagg. I hope to meet him again."

"If you truly knew him, you'd wish for no such thing."

"The Breakers you spoke of - where are they?"

"Why...Thunderclap, do'ee not know? The shadow-lands. Why do you ask?"

"No reason but curiosity," Susannah said, and seemed to hear Eddie:Ask any question she'll answer. Burn up the day. Give us a chance to catch up. She hoped Mia couldn't read her thoughts when they were separated like this. If she could, they were all likely up shit creek without a paddle. "Let's go back to Walter. Can we speak of him a bit?"

Mia signaled a weary acceptance that Susannah didn't quite believe. How long had it been since Mia had had an ear for any tale she might care to tell? The answer, Susannah guessed, was probably never. And the questions Susannah was asking, the doubts she was articulating...surely some of them must have passed through Mia's own head. They'd be banished quickly as the blasphemies they were, but still, come on, this was not a stupid woman. Unless obsessionmade you stupid. Susannah supposed a case could be made for that idea.

"Susannah? Bumbler got your tongue?"

"No, I was just thinking what a relief it must have been when he came to you."

Mia considered that, then smiled. Smiling changed her, made her look girlish and artless and shy. Susannah had to remind herself that wasn't a look she could trust. "Yes! It was! Of course it was!"

"After discovering your purpose and being trapped here by it...after seeing the Wolves getting ready to store the kids and then operate on them...after all that, Walter comes. The devil, in fact, but at least he can see you. At least he can hear your sad tale. And he makes you an offer."

"He said the Crimson King would give me a child," Mia said, and put her hands gently against the great globe of her belly. "My Mordred, whose time has come round at last."

Twelve

Mia pointed again at the Arc 16 Experimental Station. What she had called the Dogan of Dogans. The last remnant of her smile lingered on her lips, but there was no happiness or real amusement in it now. Her eyes were shiny with fear and - perhaps - awe.

"That's where they changed me, made me mortal. Once there were many such places - there must have been - but I'd set my watch and warrant that's the only one left in all of In-World, Mid-World, or End-World. It's a place both wonderful and terrible. And it was there I was taken."

"I don't understand what you mean." Susannah was thinking of her Dogan. Which was, of course, based onJake's Dogan. It was certainly a strange place, with its flashing lights and multiple TV screens, but not frightening.

"Beneath it are passages which go under the castle," Mia said. "At the end of one is a door that opens on the Calla side of Thunderclap, just under the last edge of the darkness. That's the one the Wolves use when they go on their raids."

Susannah nodded. That explained a lot. "Do they take the kiddies back the same way?"

"Nay, lady, do it please you; like many doors, the one that takes the Wolves from Fedic to the Calla side of Thunderclap goes in only one direction. When you're on the other side, it's no longer there."

"Because it's not amagic door, right?"

Mia smiled and nodded and patted her knee.

Susannah looked at her with mounting excitement. "It's another twin-thing."

"Do you say so?"

"Yes. Only this time Tweedledum and Tweedledee are science and magic. Rational and irrational. Sane and insane. No matter what terms you pick, that's a double-damned pair if ever there was one."

"Aye? Do you say so?"

"Yes!Magic doors - like the one Eddie found and you took me through to New York - go both ways. The doors North Central Positronics made to replace them when thePrim receded and the magic faded...they go only one way. Have I got that right?"

"I think so, aye."

"Maybe they didn't have time to figure out how to make teleportation a two-lane highway before the world moved on. In any case, the Wolves go to the Calla side of Thunderclap by door and come back to Fedic by train. Right?"

Mia nodded.

Susannah no longer thought she was just trying to kill time. This information might come in handy later on. "And after the King's men, Pere's low men, have scooped the kids' brains, what then? Back through the door with them, I suppose - the one under the castle. Back to the Wolves' staging point. And a train takes them the rest of the way home."

"Aye."

"Why do they bother takin em back at all?"

"Lady, I know not." Then Mia's voice dropped. "There's another door under Castle Discordia. Another door in the rooms of ruin. One that goes..." She licked her lips. "That goes todash."

"Todash?...I know the word, but I don't understand what's so bad - "

"There are endless worlds, your dinh is correct about that, but even when those worlds are close together - like some of the multiple New Yorks - there are endless spaces between. Think ya of the spaces between the inner and outer walls of a house. Places where it's always dark. But just because a place is always dark doesn't mean it's empty. Does it, Susannah?"

There are monsters in the todash darkness.

Who had said that? Roland? She couldn't remember for sure, and what did it matter? She thought she understood what Mia was saying, and if so, it was horrible.

"Rats in the walls, Susannah.Bats in the walls. All sorts of sucking, biting bugs in the walls."

"Stop it, I get the picture."

"That door beneath the castle - one of their mistakes, I have no doubt - goes tonowhere at all. Into the darkness between worlds. Todash-space. But not empty space." Her voice lowered further. "That door is reserved for the Red King's most bitter enemies. They're thrown into a darkness where they may exist - blind, wandering, insane - for years. But in the end, something always finds them and devours them. Monsters beyond the ability of such minds as ours to bear thought of."

Susannah found herself trying to picture such a door, and what waited behind it. She didn't want to but couldn't help it. Her mouth dried up.

In that same low and somehow horrible tone of confidentiality, Mia said, "There were many places where the old people tried to join magic and science together, but yon may be the only one left." She nodded toward the Dogan. "It was there that Walter took me, to make me mortal and take me out ofPrim 's way forever.

"To make me like you."

Thirteen

Mia didn't know everything, but so far as Susannah could make out, Walter/Flagg had offered the spirit later to be known as Mia the ultimate Faustian bargain. If she was willing to give up her nearly eternal but discorporate state and become a mortal woman, then she could become pregnant and bear a child. Walter was honest with her about how little she would actually be getting for all she'd be giving up. The baby wouldn't grow as normal babies did - as Baby Michael had done before Mia's unseen but worshipful eyes - and she might only have him for seven years, but oh what wonderful years they could be!

Beyond this, Walter had been tactfully silent, allowing Mia to form her own pictures: how she would nurse her baby and wash him, not neglecting the tender creases behind the knees and ears; how she would kiss him in the honeyspot between the unfledged wings of his shoulderblades; how she would walk with him, holding both of his hands in both of hers as he toddled; how she would read to him and point out Old Star and Old Mother in the sky and tell him the story of how Rustie Sam stole the widow's best loaf of bread; how she would hug him to her and bathe his cheek with her grateful tears when he spoke his first word, which would, of course, beMama.

Susannah listened to this rapturous account with a mixture of pity and cynicism. Certainly Walter had done one hell of a job selling the idea to her, and as ever, the best way to do that was to let the mark sell herself. He'd even proposed a properly Satanic period of proprietorship: seven years.Just sign on the dotted line, madam, and please don't mind that whiff of brimstone; I just can't seem to get the smell out of my clothes.

Susannah understood the deal and still had trouble swallowing it. This creature had given up immortality for morning sickness, swollen and achy breasts, and, in the last six weeks of her carry, the need to pee approximately every fifteen minutes. And wait, folks, there's more! Two and a half years of changing diapers soaked with piss and loaded with shit! Of getting up in the night as the kid howls with the pain of cutting his first tooth (and cheer up, Mom, only thirty-one to go). That first magic spit-up! That first heartwarming spray of urine across the bridge of your nose when the kid lets go as you're changing his clout!

And yes, there would be magic. Even though she'd never had a child herself, Susannah knew there would be magic even in the dirty diapers and the colic if the child were the result of a loving union. But to have the child and then have him taken away from you just when it was getting good, just as the child approached what most people agreed was the age of reason, responsibility, and accountability? To then be swept over the Crimson King's red horizon? That was an awful idea. And was Mia so besotted by her impending motherhood that she didn't realize the little shehad been promised was now being whittled away? Walter/Flagg had come to her in Fedic, Scenic Aftermath of the Red Death, and promised her seven years with her son. On the telephone in the Plaza-Park, however, Richard Sayre had spoken of a mere five.

In any case, Mia had agreed to the dark man's terms. And really, how much sport could there have been in getting her to do that? She'd been made for motherhood, had arisen from thePrim with that imperative, had known it herself ever since seeing her first perfect human baby, the boy Michael. How could she have said no? Even if the offer had only been for three years, or for one, how? Might as well expect a long-time junkie to refuse a loaded spike when it was offered.

Mia had been taken into the Arc 16 Experimental Station. She'd been given a tour by the smiling, sarcastic (and undoubtedly frightening) Walter, who sometimes called himself Walter of End-World and sometimes Walter of All-World. She'd seen the great room filled with beds, awaiting the children who would come to fill them; at the head of each was a stainless-steel hood attached to a segmented steel hose. She did not like to think what the purpose of such equipment might be. She'd also been shown some of the passages under the Castle on the Abyss, and had been in places where the smell of death was strong and suffocating. She - there had been a red darkness and she -

"Were you mortal by then?" Susannah asked. "It sounds as though maybe you were."

"I was on my way," she said. "It was a process Walter calledbecoming. "

"All right. Go on."

But here Mia's recollections were lost in a dark fugue - not todash, but far from pleasant. A kind of amnesia, and it wasred. A color Susannah had come to distrust. Had the pregnant woman's transition from the world of the spirit to the world of the flesh - her trip to Mia - been accomplished through some other kind of doorway? She herself didn't seem to know. Only that there had been a time of darkness - unconsciousness, she supposed - and then she had awakened "...as you see me. Only not yet pregnant, of course."

According to Walter, Mia could not actually make a baby, even as a mortal woman. Carry, yes. Conceive, no. So it came to pass that one of the demon elementals had done a great service for the Crimson King, taking Roland's seed as female and passing it on to Susannah as male. And there had been another reason, as well. Walter hadn't mentioned it, but Mia had known.

"It's the prophecy," she said, looking into Fedic's deserted and shadowless street. Across the way, a robot that looked like Andy of the Calla stood silent and rusting in front of the Fedic Caf��, which promisedGOOD MEELS CHEEP .

"What prophecy?" Susannah asked.

" 'He who ends the line of Eld shall conceive a child of incest with his sister or his daughter, and the child will be marked, by his red heel shall you know him. It is he who shall stop the breath of the last warrior.' "

"Woman,I'm not Roland's sister, or his daughter, either! You maybe didn't notice a small but basic difference in the color of our hides, namely his beingwhite and mine beingblack. " But she thought she had a pretty good idea of what the prophecy meant, just the same. Families were made in many ways. Blood was only one of them.

"Did he not tell you what dinh means?" Mia asked.

"Of course. It means leader. If he was in charge of a whole country instead of just three scruffy-ass gunpuppies, it'd mean king."

"Leader and king, you say true. Now, Susannah, will you tell me that such words aren't just poor substitutes for another?"

Susannah made no reply.

Mia nodded as though she had, then winced when a fresh contraction struck. It passed, and she went on. "The sperm was Roland's. I believe it may have been preserved somehow by the old people's science while the demon elemental turned itself inside out and made man from woman, but that isn't the important part. The important part is that it lived and found the rest of itself, as ordained by ka."

"My egg."

"Your egg."

"When I was raped in the ring of stones."

"Say true."

Susannah sat, musing. Finally she looked up. "Seem to me that it's what I said before. You didn't like it then, not apt to like it now, but - girl, you just the baby-sitter."

There was no rage this time. Mia only smiled. "Who went on having her periods, even when she was being sick in the mornings? You did. And who's got the full belly today?I do. If there was a baby-sitter, Susannah of New York, it was you."

"How can that be? Do you know?"

Mia did.

Fourteen

The baby, Walter had told her, would betransmitted to Mia; sent to her cell by cell just as a fax is sent line by line.

Susannah opened her mouth to say she didn't know what a fax was, then closed it again. She understood thegist of what Mia was saying, and that was enough to fill her with a terrible combination of awe and rage. Shehad been pregnant. She was, in a real sense, pregnant right this minute. But the baby was being

(faxed)

sent to Mia. Was this a process that had started fast and slowed down, or started slow and speeded up? The latter, she thought, because as time passed she'd felt less pregnant instead of more. The little swelling in her belly had mostly flattened out again. And now she understood how both she and Mia could feel an equal attachment to the chap: it did, in fact, belong to both of them. Had been passed on like a...a blood transfusion.

Only when they want to take your blood and put it into someone else, they ask your permission. If they're doctors, that is, and not one of Pere Callahan's vampires. You're a lot closer to one of those, Mia, aren't you?

"Science or magic?" Susannah asked. "Which one was it that allowed you to steal my baby?"

Mia flushed a little at that, but when she turned to Susannah, she was able to meet Susannah's eyes squarely. "I don't know," she said. "Likely a mixture of both. And don't be so self-righteous! It's inme, not you. It's feeding off my bones and my blood, not yours."

"So what? Do you think that changes anything? You stole it, with the help of some filthy magician."

Mia shook her head vehemently, her hair a storm around her face.

"No?" Susannah asked. "Then how comeyou weren't the one eating frogs out of the swamp and shoats out of the pen and God knows what other nasty things? How come you needed all that make-believe nonsense about the banquets in the castle, where you could pretend to be the one eating? In short, sugarpie, how come your chap's nourishment had to go downmy throat?"

"Because...because..." Mia's eyes, Susannah saw, were filling with tears. "Because this is spoiled land! Blasted land! The place of the Red Death and the edge of the Discordia! I'd not feed my chap from here!"

It was a good answer, Susannah reckoned, but not thecomplete answer. And Mia knew it, too. Because Baby Michael, perfect Baby Michael, had been conceived here, had thrived here, had been thriving when Mia last saw him. And if she was so sure, why were those tears standing in her eyes?

"Mia, they're lying to you about your chap."

"You don't know that, so don't be hateful!"

"Ido know it." And she did. But there wasn't proof, gods damn it! How did you prove a feeling, even one as strong as this?

"Flagg - Walter, if you like that better - he promised you seven years. Sayre says you can have five. What if they hand you a card, GOOD FOR THREE YEARS OF CHILD-REARING WITH STAMP, when you get to this Dixie Pig? Gonna go with that, too?"

"That won't happen! You're as nasty as the other one! Shut up!"

"You got a nerve callingme nasty! Can't wait to give birth to a child supposed to murder his Daddy."

"I don't care!"

"You're all confused, girl, between what you want to happen and whatwill happen. How do you know they aren't gonna kill him before he can cry out his first breath, and grind him up and feed him to these Breaker bastards?"

"Shut...up!"

"Kind of a super-food? Finish the job all at once?"

"Shutup, I said,shut UP! "

"Point is, you don't know. You don't know anything. You just the babysitter, just the au pair. You know they lie, you know they trick and never treat, and yet you go on. And you wantme to shut up."

"Yes!Yes! "

"I won't," Susannah told her grimly, and seized Mia's shoulders. They were amazingly bony under the dress, but hot, as if the woman were running a fever. "I won't because it's really mine and you know it. Cat can have kittens in the oven, girl, but that won't ever make em muffins."

All right, they had made it back to all-out fury after all. Mia's face twisted into something both horrible and unhappy. In Mia's eyes, Susannah thought she could see the endless, craving, grieving creature this woman once had been. And something else. A spark that might be blown into belief. If there was time.

"I'llshut you up," Mia said, and suddenly Fedic's main street tore open, just as the allure had. Behind it was a kind of bulging darkness. But not empty. Oh no, not empty, Susannah felt that very clearly.

They fell toward it. Miapropelled them toward it. Susannah tried to hold them back with no success at all. As they tumbled into the dark, she heard a singsong thought running through her head, running in an endless worry-circle:Oh Susannah-Mio, divided girl of mine, Done parked her RIG

Fifteen

in the DIXIE PIG, In the year of -

Before this annoying (but ever so important) jingle could finish its latest circuit through Susannah-Mio's head, the head in question struck something, and hard enough to send a galaxy of bright stars exploding across her field of vision. When they cleared, she saw, very large, in front of her eyes:

NK AWA

She pulled back and saw BANGO SKANK AWAITS THE KING! It was the graffito written on the inside of the toilet stall's door. Her life was haunted by doors - had been, it seemed, ever since the door of her cell had clanged closed behind her in Oxford, Mississippi - but this one was shut. Good. She was coming to believe that shut doors presented fewer problems. Soon enough this one would open and the problems would start again.

Mia:I told you all I know. Now are you going to help me get to the Dixie Pig, or do I have to do it on my own? I can if I have to, especially with the turtle to help me.

Susannah:I'll help.

Although how much or how little help Mia got from her sort of depended on what time it was right now. How long had they been in here? Her legs felt completely numb from the knees down - her butt, too - and she thought that was a good sign, but under these fluorescent lights, Susannah supposed it was always half-past anytime.

What does it matter to you?Mia asked, suspicious.What does it matter to you what time it is?

Susannah scrambled for an explanation.

The baby. You know that what I did will keep it from coming only for so long, don't you?

Of course I do. That's why I want to get moving.

All right. Let's see the cash our old pal Mats left us.

Mia took out the little wad of bills and looked at them uncomprehendingly.

Take the one that says Jackson.

I...Embarrassment.I can't read.

Let mecome forward. I'llread it.

No!

All right, all right, calm down. It's the guy with the long white hair combed back kind of like Elvis.

I don't know this Elvis -

Never mind, it's that one right on top. Good. Now put the rest of the cash back in your pocket, nice and safe. Hold the twenty in the palm of your hand. Okay, we're blowing this pop-stand.

What's a pop-stand?

Mia, shut up.

Sixteen

When they re-entered the lobby - walking slowly, on legs that tingled with pins and needles - Susannah was marginally encouraged to see that it was dusk outside. She hadn't succeeded in burning up the entire day, it seemed, but she'd gotten rid of most of it.

The lobby was busy but no longer frantic. The beautiful Eurasian girl who'd checked her/them in was gone, her shift finished. Under the canopy, two new men in green monkeysuits were whistling up cabs for folks, many of whom were wearing tuxedos or long sparkly dresses.

Going out to parties,Susannah said.Or maybe the theater.

Susannah, I care not. Do we need to get one of the yellow vehicles from one of the men in the green suits?

No. We'll get a cab on the corner.

Do you say so?

Oh, quit with the suspicion. You're taking your kid to either its death or yours, I'm sure of that, but I recognize your intention to do well and I'll keep my promise. Yes, I do say so.

All right.

Without another word - certainly none of apology - Mia left the hotel, turned right, and began walking back toward Second Avenue, 2 Hammarskj?ld Plaza, and the beautiful song of the rose.

Seventeen

On the corner of Second and Forty-sixth, a metal waggon of faded red was parked at the curb. The curb was yellow at this point, and a man in a blue suit - a Guard o' the Watch, by his sidearm - seemed to be discussing that fact with a tall, white-bearded man.

Inside of her, Mia felt a flurry of startled movement.

Susannah? What is it?

That man!

The Guard o' the Watch? Him?

No, the one with the beard! He looks almost exactly like Henchick! Henchick of the Manni! Do you not see?

Mia neither saw nor cared. She gathered that although parking waggons along the yellow curb was forbidden, and the man with the beard seemed to understand this, he still would not move. He went on setting up easels and then putting pictures on them. Mia sensed this was an old argument between the two men.

"I'm gonna have to give you a ticket, Rev."

"Do what you need to do, Officer Benzyck. God loves you."

"Good. Delighted to hear it. As for the ticket, you'll tear it up. Right?"

"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; render unto God those things that are God's. So says the Bible, and blessed be the Lord's Holy Book."

"I can get behind that," said Benzyck o' the Watch. He pulled a thick pad of paper from his back pocket and began to scribble on it. This also had the feel of an old ritual. "But let me tell you something, Harrigan - sooner or later City Hall is gonna catch up to your action, and they're gonna render unto your scofflaw holy-rollin'ass.I only hope I'm there when it happens."

He tore a sheet from his pad, went over to the metal waggon, and slipped the paper beneath a black window-slider resting on the waggon's glass front.

Susannah, amused:He's gettin a ticket. Not the first one, either, from the sound.

Mia, momentarily diverted in spite of herself:What does it say on the side of his waggon, Susannah?

There was a slight shift as Susannacame partwayforward, and the sense of a squint. It was a strange sensation for Mia, like having a tickle deep in her head.

Susannah, still sounding amused:It says CHURCH OF THE HOLY GOD-BOMB, Rev. Earl Harrigan. It also says YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS WILL BE REWARDED IN HEAVEN.

What's heaven?

Another name for the clearing at the end of the path.

Ah.

Benzyck o' the Watch was strolling away with his hands clasped behind his back, his considerable ass bunching beneath his blue uniform trousers, his duty done. The Rev. Harrigan, meanwhile, was adjusting his easels. The picture on one showed a man being let out of jail by a fellow in a white robe. The whiterobe's head was glowing. The picture on the other showed the whiterobe turning away from a monster with red skin and horns on his head. The monster with the horns looked pissed like a bear at sai Whiterobe.

Susannah, is that red thing how the folk of this world see the Crimson King?

Susannah:I guess so. It's Satan, if you care - lord of the underworld. Have the god-guy get you a cab, why don't you? Use the turtle.

Again, suspicious (Mia apparently couldn't help it):Do you say so?

Say true! Aye! Say Jesus Christ, woman!

All right, all right.Mia sounded a bit embarrassed. She walked toward Rev. Harrigan, pulling the scrimshaw turtle out of her pocket.

Eighteen

What she needed to do came to Susannah in a flash. She withdrew from Mia (if the woman couldn't get a taxi with the help of that magic turtle, she was hopeless) and with her eyes squeezed shut visualized the Dogan. When she opened them, she was there. She grabbed the microphone she'd used to call Eddie and depressed the toggle.

"Harrigan!" she said into the mike. "Reverend Earl Harrigan! Are you there? Do you read me, sugar?Do you read me? "

Nineteen

Rev. Harrigan paused in his labors long enough to watch a black woman - one fine-struttin honey, too, praise God - get into a cab. The cab drove off. He had a lot to do before beginning his nightly sermon - his little dance with Officer Benzyck was only the opening gun - but he stood there watching the cab's taillights twinkle and dwindle, just the same.

Had something just happened to him?

Had...? Was it possible that...?

Rev. Harrigan fell to his knees on the sidewalk, quite oblivious of the pedestrians passing by (just as most were oblivious of him). He clasped his big old praise-God hands and raised them to his chin. He knew the Bible said that praying was a private thing best done in one's closet, and he'd spent plenty of time getting kneebound in his own, yes Lord, but he also believed God wanted folks to see what a praying man looked like from time to time, because most of them - sayGawd!  - had forgotten what that looked like. And there was no better, nonicer place to speak with God than right here on the corner of Second and Forty-sixth. There was a singing here, clean and sweet. It uplifted the spirit, clarified the mind...and, just incidentally, clarified the skin, as well. This wasn't the voice of God, and Rev. Harrigan was not so blasphemously stupid as to think it was, but he had an idea that it was angels. Yes, sayGawd, sayGawd-bomb, the voice of the ser-a-phim!

"God, did you just drop a little God-bomb on me? I want to ask was that voice I just heard yours or mine own?"

No answer. So many times there was no answer. He would ponder this. In the meantime, he had a sermon to prepare for. A show to do, if you wanted to be perfectly vulgar about it.

Rev. Harrigan went to his van, parked at the yellow curb as always, and opened the back doors. Then he took out the pamphlets, the silk-covered collection plate which he'd put beside him on the sidewalk, and the sturdy wooden cube. The soapbox upon which he would stand, could you raise up high and shout hallelujah?

And yes, brother, while you were right at it, could you give amen?

STAVE: Commala-come-ken

It's the other one again.

You may know her name and face

But that don't make her your friend.

RESPONSE: Commala-come-ten!

She is not your friend!

If you let her get too close

She'll cut you up again.

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